On Psychology

I cannot accept the idea that “the world would be all right if we could just get rid of those people.”  Depending on the position, those people might be conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, gay, heterosexual, transgender, male, female, white, black, urban, rural, educated, uneducated, rich, poor, or virtually any “other” identifiable group.

Any version of this outlook is wrong on so many levels.  It assumes “evil has a group, and it’s not mine.”  It sees evil as “something out there” or “something in you“—but never “something in me.”  Hegel referred to this attitude as the “Beautiful Soul Syndrome.”  The Beautiful Soul cannot stand to see his own imperfections and evil tendencies.  So he conveniently projects evil onto other people.  He says “They are the evil people!  They are the problem!  If only they would think like I do, and believe like I do, and live like I do—then evil would be gone and all would be well!”  The Beautiful Soul blames the evil on those people because he cannot own the evil within himself.

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“Splitting” the world up into good people and bad people may help us defend ourselves against facing some harsh reality of good and evil within us.  But Peter Rollins points out that, as with any psychological defence, habitually “splitting” the world up into good people and bad people is harmful in the long-term.  Defence mechanisms allow us to go on with life even when we cannot bear accepting something that is real and true.  We oversimplify what’s true in the short-term in exchange for some relative mental calm and stability.  But we gain our peace of mind at the cost of knowing the whole truth.

Left unchecked, we may develop a wayward appetite for untruths from habitually relying on psychological defences.  When we “split” up the world into moral and immoral groups, we tend to form a high view of ourselves and a low view of “others.”  Such a simplistic anthropology is not simply untrue—it’s dangerous.  Splitting, taken to extremes, motivates atrocities.  One’s group is seen as righteous while outsiders are seen as evil.  “Others” can become so demonized that committing evil acts against them may even be justified in the name of the good.  “But the line dividing good and evil,” writes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “cuts through the heart of every human being.”  Only when I can own my reality, can I see your’s more clearly.  If I cannot see myself, then I cannot see you.

 

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